Is It Time for a New Coach?

As we parents make our way through the world of junior tennis, we can sometimes feel a bit like Lewis and Clark trying to navigate through the Rocky Mountains to get to the Pacific Ocean. One of the easiest , or so it seems, decisions is who is going to coach my child. There is always a coach who can find room in their program for a newbie.  “Just come join our beginner class on Tuesday afternoon, and I will take care of everything that has to do with your child’s development as a tennis player. We have a proven method that has worked for many  youngsters over the past decade, and we are sure your child will fit right in here.”

As time goes on we can sense that our budding young superstar is not so happy with the coach or class.  After asking a few questions we begin to wonder,  “Is it time to change coaches or programs?”  Texas coach Dean Wright reminds us that, as the parent, we have every right to investigate the methods being taught, how they’re being taught, what notes if any the coach is keeping on our kid’s progress,  and most of all, we have the right to be present during lessons. It’s our child.  So the question arises,  “When is it time to fire my child’s coach?”

Dean offers up some warning flags and words of wisdom for us all:

  • Has your child stopped developing as a player?   Ever heard of hitting the wall? Seems when your kid first started playing, they progressed quickly, picking up every instruction with ease. There is a time, which is normal, when every beginner hits the wall.  Improvement isn’t as evident – getting better comes slowly now rather than quickly as it was before. This is normal,  no time to panic. I would suggest that you let at least 4 months pass after your child has started in a program or with a coach.  Then if the unhappiness continues, do a little investigating.  Has the coach taken time to find out what type of personality your child has?   Has he taken time to find out how your child learns?  Has your child bonded with the coach?  What’s their relationship like?  Does the coach get the maximum effort from you child?
  • Without going into too much psychology, can the coach keep the child constantly engaged, has he figured out what keeps your child from getting bored?  It is every coach’s responsibility to learn their student, and there is no excuse for them not to. When a child learns to trust you as a person, only then will they trust what you are teaching. Trust is the basis for a coach- student relationship.  Without it, learning slows or even stops completely, and it’s time to look elsewhere.
  • Has your coach laid a solid on-court foundation for your child’s game?  Attending lessons is one thing I insist that the parents do, especially at first. What is about to be built must have a solid foundation or else it will crumble later. Parents also need to know what’s being taught so they have an understanding of what the coach is trying to accomplish with stroke production.

For many kids, changing coaches is such an emotional decision – at least it was for my son.  My son had a deep bond with his coach.  They had worked together for six years, and my son looked up to his coach as sort of a big brother, someone to give him advice both on and off the tennis court.   And even though my husband and I saw the need for a coaching change several months earlier, my son is so dang stubborn that he needed to buy into the move or else it was doomed to failure.  Something really drastic had to happen before he was ready to admit he needed a new tennis home.  Once he was able to see it, though,  it was a quick and simple move to the new coaches – a great decision for all of us.

The bottom line is that we parents (along with our players) are the consumers here, and we are also the best judges of what our children need.  It’s easy to get lulled into tranquility with a coach or academy, especially when that coach is a skilled salesperson.  But, as Coach Wright has shown us, there are some very clear tell-tale signs pointing to the need for change.  Pay close attention to those signs so your child is in the best position possible to achieve tennis success.

For the flip-side of this issue – players who change coaches too often – please read The Tennis Mom article published in February 2011.  Be sure to read the comments, as well – great stuff!

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4 thoughts on “Is It Time for a New Coach?”

  1. Unless the coach is very, very special – very gifted – it’s unlikely that he will have a “cradle-to-grave” skill or interest when it comes to a junior’s development. Some coaches are great when starting out; however, they might not have the energy or the knowledge to take someone to “the next level.” They may very good country club teaching pros but the same old forehand, backhand, volley and serve practice is not going to do the trick. Even if they were great players themselves, it’s possible that they might have been bypassed by modern technology, methods and drills. Do they know what it’s like for the ball to explode off the court…sideways? Have they returned 130MPH serves, huge kicks or tried to handle a monster passing shot at the net? Not every coach can put ego aside and say that “hey, this is beyond my range of expertise”. Personally, I know that at some point, I will not be able to relate to what my students are going through. When that time comes, it’s best if they are shipped to someone more suitable.

  2. ini, thanks for your comments, as always! i have a question for you: you say that when the time comes that you are no longer able to relate to your students, you will pass them along to another coach, but how will you recognize when that time has come? and, what if the student and/or parent isn’t willing to go somewhere else? how would you convince them?

    1. great question, Lisa. Part of the recognition comes from observing the game and determining that I my skills/understanding have been surpassed. Another part comes from actually trying to compete against these young kids and so that I can feel how the game is played. In other words, I will be able to see how the game progresses and coming to the conclusion that I am no longer able to identify methods for bringing out the best in the particular student…no longer knowing what to practice and how and not understanding what the student is going through. As lawyers, we do this type of stuff all the time (“hey, I’m the corporate guy; you need to talk to the bankruptcy guy”) so I don’t have a problem recognizing when my skills are inadequate.

      As you may know, I started with this kid when he was 14.5 and told him “by 16 I want you outta here; I am going to help you get picked up by the USTA but after that, I won’t be able to help you…you will have outgrown me”…well the USTA did in fact fly him to Boca 3 times but then they dropped the ball. Now he’s back and I simply can’t help him because he needs a different type of coaching and environment. So, to address your second part, I don’t have to convince them…I will make less time available for him and more time available for someone else.

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